The product of an ongoing collaboration between the Museum of Modern Art and the Global Lens Initiative, the annual “Global Lens” series is designed to promote and showcase filmmaking in nations with developing film industries. This year’s edition offers up a consistently mid-range product, reliably delivering a minimal level of cinematic inventiveness, but rarely breaking out of the mold.
Ranging in origin from countries we already associate with high-level cinema (Iran, Mexico) to those we don’t (Uruguay, Algeria), the eight films in this year’s edition offer a snapshot of the work being done in international, low-budget cinema—at least as performed by those filmmakers with an eye on the festival circuit. Long takes predominate, as do tried-and-true subjects (the plight of women in Islamic countries, the emptiness of the ruling classes), while aesthetic strategies fall along an accepted spectrum—from the wryly observational (Dioses) to the comic neorealism (Mascarades).
Not helping the cause, this year’s entries often seem modeled on the work of more accomplished filmmakers. Peruvian director Josué Méndez’s Dioses suggests a less exacting version of Lucrecia Martel’s spoiled-South-American-upper-classes-and-their-dark-skinned-servants contemporary classic La Ciénaga (with a corresponding incest theme to boot), while Alejandro Gerber Bicecci’s Vaho, in its concern with exposing the sick-soul-of-Mexico and its dissection of the country’s obsession with religious pageantry, clearly recalls Carlos Reygadas’s far more brutally incisive Battle in Heaven. Still, both films manage to showcase their unique merits: Méndez has a dryly satirical sense of humor, present in his tracking shots of passed-out bodies and the efforts of a trophy wife to memorize the plant names she is expected to know by her idle-rich counterparts; Bicecci’s sophisticated flashback structure makes palpable the sense of buried guilt running through generations.
More successful are those films that seem less reliant on—while obviously still informed by—established models. In series highlight Ocean of an Old Man, director Rajesh Shera treats the aftermath of the devastating 2004 tsunami by crafting an elliptical, meditative film that uses an accumulation of images and sounds to suggest a sense of loss, desolation, and the possibility of renewal. Following an aging British man who, mourning for his wife and child, continues to teach the natives at a tiny school on a remote Indian isle, the film fluently mixes nature imagery, memory, and fantasy, calling on such repeated motifs as the man marking down missing children in his attendance book and countless shots of the flowing and ebbing sea, to get at the raw heart of the tragedy. Of course, it takes more than one top-flight film to make a series, but given the modest nature of “Global Lens,” we’ll take our pleasures where we can get them.